A Day’s Work: Illustrator


Nick Avallone lives in Saugerties with his wife, Melanie, and their two kids, Ivan and Olivia.

Describe what you do.

My job is to make sure the games we create look great and are easy to use. Normally that would mean overseeing a staff of artists and designers and coordinating their efforts, but because we’re a small company, that staff is just me. So I spend my days designing logos for games, planning out game boards and card designs and creating artwork for games.

How did you become involved in this line of work?


Blind luck. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a fantasy illustrator, and paint dragons and monsters for books and games. After college I found work as a website designer and I’ve been doing that for many years now. It’s good work, but the old ambition to be an illustrator kept nagging me. To satisfy that creative itch, I started drawing again in my spare time. Last year my wife noticed an enticing want ad for a new game company opening in Woodstock; they were looking for an art director and illustrator. I contacted the owner, Ian Brody, showed him some of my work, and he hired me on the spot.

What training or education do you need for this work?

A good foundation in graphic design is crucial, but how you get that is up for debate. Much of my education was self-directed, and took place long after I got out of art school. I went to school for fine arts, not illustration or graphic design. When I was in school, art was treated as something to be nurtured rather than taught. So I got no instruction in practical techniques or concepts, like color theory or perspective; my teachers just wanted us to express ourselves. It was basically them handing us brushes and paints and saying, “make some art.” It was fun at the time, but in retrospect, not very helpful.

On the other hand, there were a couple of foundation courses that have stuck with me to this day. Also being in an environment where you get regular feedback from your peers is crucial. So formal education has that going for it.

If you’re really focused, you can probably get by with a self-directed course of study and rely on online art forums to bounce ideas off your peers.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Doing card designs and laying out game boards is really satisfying, but the best of all is getting to do illustrations, like the pictures on the cards or on the cover of the game box. When I’m working on those, it’s hard to believe that this is my job.

What’s the hardest part of the job?

Deadlines. It’s always the deadlines. I’m something of a perfectionist, so I tend to go back and rework things a lot. I’ll stare at a design or illustration until my eyes go bleary, and make increasingly minor changes to details no one will ever notice.

What advice could you offer someone wanting to enter this field?

Always be looking for ways to improve your work. Network with your peers. Get online and join groups to get feedback and critique. When you get negative feedback, don’t let it crush you.

How have technological advances changed how you work over the years?

Computers and desktop publishing software have made it much easier to create games. Although I still use pencil and paper for sketching out ideas, 90 percent of what I do is on the computer. Being able to send out sketches via email means I can do a lot of my work from my home studio, where it’s always casual Friday.

How’s the money?

You won’t get rich doing it, but it’s a decent living.

A version of this article originally appeared in the April 24, 2014 issue of Saugerties Times.